Harmonix’s crowdfunded slice of nostalgia is a fine remaster
Alittle way into Amplitude’s campaign there’s a track called Digital Paralysis. It’s an apt description of our condition after a hubristic attempt to jump into Harmonix’s remake on Advanced difficulty, our effort quickly derailed by an overwhelming onslaught of fast-moving beats that leaves us pressing nothing at all. Chastened, and with the difficulty dialled down a notch, it all starts coming back to us on the next attempt.
Amplitude’s new form is a slick reimagining of the beat-matching classic that comes across as comfortingly familiar rather than dated. You still move your ship (now several other genres (often mashed together in a single song), and makes for a frenetic, potentially divisive tracklisting. But for the most part the music that’s here feels more purposeful. Beats and bass are prioritised, and there are no longer any guitar-centric tracks that might allow less punchy rhythm sections to seep in. It all feels better suited to Amplitude’s singular take on rhythm action, then, one that still feels fresh 12 years on. Traces of the first game can be found everywhere, given fresh context by the remake’s narrative and contemporary polish. The selection of four chunky, differently coloured Nanoblasters conform to the design principles of the original ship, but their sinuous, metallic anatomies now flex with each shot as they blast the notes beneath them. Most of the powerups are familiar, too, albeit renamed: Slow Down is now called Sedate, for example, while the sectionclearing Autoblaster has become Cleanse. Freestyler, meanwhile, has lost its suffix and apparently some of its generosity, too – disappointingly, you’re afforded slightly less time to improvise over the tracks now.
The original control scheme is in place, too, by default mapping beats and notes on the right to R2, ones in the centre to R1, and leaving L1 for the left side of each part. Despite the greater travel afforded by the DualShock 4 pad, this setup still works well and doesn’t lose any of its punch. A multitude of alternative control schemes are included for those that don’t find that intuitive.
Our preview build is all but final, and barring any last-minute calamities the game will already have gone out to Kickstarter backers by the time you read this. From what we’ve seen, Harmonix has gone further than simply resurrecting a much-admired game and has carefully reshaped it to suit modern audiences. It may lack the songs you remember, but Amplitude’s remix already feels like the superior cut.
Structurally, Amplitude is almost identical to its forebear. The campaign sees you travel through three regions, each of which features four stages. The last of each of these is essentially a boss encounter, in which you must successfully streak through barriers to preserve your health and avoid damaging your patient’s brain. If you do particularly well, you’ll open up a bonus song for that region, and there’s a host of additional songs to unlock for the freeplay and multiplayer modes. For those reminiscing further back, there’s also Freq mode, which wraps songs around you, forming into a tunnel.